Your Voice is a Musical Instrument ~ Learn how to play it !
- By: Nashville based Media Producer Tony Rollo
The guitarist has a guitar. The pianist has their piano. Vocalists have their VOICE.
To begin with, it is best to start with understanding that true acoustic music is just that: it begins with a plucked string, the pounding of a drum or vibrating vocal cords. No matter what action creates vibrations in the air, they travel directly from the source of the sound to the ear.
For nearly a century, music and sound has been electrified. The music and sounds that reaches our ears have been passed through electronic amplification and into the air through loudspeakers. Even instruments that are considered acoustic are turned into electricity. It can be easily argued that there is no longer such a thing as pure acoustic music, unless there is nothing between what is making the sound and the human ear.
The microphone is the first step in turning sounds from waves of air pressure into electricity to then be mixed with other sound sources such as musical instruments, amplifiers electronically and then exits through speakers which create waves of air pressure that reach our ears. Even music that is considered acoustic is picked up by microphones first and then amplified. When we listen to a recording of a classical orchestra or even acappella vocal groups, we are actually listening to electronic music.
Your microphone is the same as an electric guitar pickup in that it is translating vibration into electricity. Your voice can be compared to the vibrating strings on an electric guitar because you are vibrating the air with your vocal cords.
If you first begin by considering your voice in the same way a violinist plays the violin or a pianist plays the piano, you will begin to have a deeper understanding of what it means to sing.
The microphone is what translates your singing into a sound system.
You have great control over how your voice reaches the microphone and it enhances your singing performance. Your voice is much more dynamic than any musical instrument. It is not so much about how high or low in pitch you sing, it is how much pressure you use when you sing.
A microphone can never be as sensitive as the human ear. If the song calls for a loud and powerful voice or if the song calls for a more gentle feeling, the microphone must be manipulated in order to properly enhance your voice.
Maybe the greatest tool for the new vocalist is to observe professional singers at work. Do not watch their face, watch the microphone in their hand in relation to what they are singing and what kind of song is being sung. This does not mean watching “staged” lip-synched music videos which is all done for the camera. This means watching real, live singing performances by professional vocalists. Some of the best examples to see are from singers in the mid-20th century using microphones which came before the modern electronic “crutches” we have today.
Inexperienced singers tend to “eat the microphone”. This means the microphone is held against the lips at all times no matter what is being sung. The common result is a distorted sound because the microphone is being pushed too hard by the singer’s voice. The sound engineer in control of mixing the sound will no doubt try to compensate by turning down the application. This means when there is a soft passage in a song the voice can become lost in the mix. The sound engineer will have to “ride the levels” which rarely works even for the most experienced sound engineer. There are modern means of electronically compensating automatically using devices such as compressors and limiters, but nothing replaces proper skill in using a microphone.
A microphone reacts to different sound pressures. That is, how loudly or softly you sing. The main skill needed in using the microphone for a solo singer is to continually reposition the microphone in order to achieve the same sound pressure reaching the microphone no matter how loud or soft the singing becomes. This comes from practice. Yes, practice! Just as a note played on the piano changes its sound depending on how soft or how hard the key is struck, your voice striking the microphone has a very similar effect on what comes out of the speaker and into the ears of the audience.
Is there a trick in using a microphone properly? No trick, but skill. A good sound engineer helps of course and even those modern electronic boxes with lots of blinking lights and knobs can help, but it is mainly in how you manipulate the microphone in your hand.
The simple answer is to hold it in your hand. You move the microphone closer when singing softer and further away as you sing louder. That sounds simple, but it does take some practice.
Vocal microphones are directional. They are designed to react better when aimed directly toward the lips. This means, the microphone should not be held in a way it points toward the ceiling but directly toward your mouth. The body or shaft of the microphone should be held more horizontal to the floor pointing toward the lips. As a microphone moves more toward an angle from the mouth it changes the sound it “hears” your voice. The best spot a common, handheld microphone receives the voice is in the same angle as the shaft of the microphone.
The best of distance from your mouth to the tip of the microphone is an inch or two. When you sing louder you simply move your hand holding the microphone away in a straight line. When you sing a quieter passage, you simply move the microphone closer in a straight line. Your ears will tell you that your voice is being mixed well with the music.
Would it be easier to just place the microphone on a stand? For the solo singer this would mean moving your head rather than the microphone to compensate between loud and soft passages while singing. You will end up looking like a strutting rooster. It is best to move the microphone in your hand.
For vocal groups using a microphone, a stand a few feet in front of the group is a good idea. But for the solo singer it is always best to hold the microphone in your hand.
For many reading this article, this may all seem oversimplified. But a good, basic understanding of proper microphone technique is what separates a professional sound from the amateur.
It is one thing to sound great singing to the radio while driving your car and another to sound your best in a performance situation on a stage with your microphone.
You do not have to be a professional singer to sound like a professional singer.
You do need to use professional techniques with your microphone in order to make your great voice sound great through a microphone.
A few points to remember:
Do not “eat” your microphone while singing.
The best spot is an inch or two from your mouth.
Hold your microphone in your hand.
A microphone stand is used to hold the microphone before and after you sing.
Point the microphone in your lips using the shaft to aim the microphone.
Hold the microphone more horizontally to the floor in front of your face, not against your chest pointing toward the ceiling.
As you sing, move the microphone with your hand slightly further away as you sing louder and slightly closer to your lips as you sing softer.
Always trust your ears.
Always have fun! That’s what singing is all about.
Christian Accompaniment Tracks Music Magazine